Theme: Tarot Card
The High Priestess signifies inner wisdom at its deepest level... It indicates a sense of darkness, sometimes an area of fear in our lives, but also one of beauty. A period of passive withdrawal can enrich our lives by allowing things inside to awaken.
It was all Hotaru's idea. Faced with the prospect of doing a series for her art exam, she looked around at her family and friends and decided to do a set of tarot 'cards'. It wasn't that Michiru, Haruka and Setsuna disapproved, exactly, just that the tarot was hardly an easy subject to tackle.
"That's why I've chosen it," was Hotaru's response. There was a glint in her eye and her lips were set in a straight line. Her parents recognised there was no point in further argument and gave in with as little or as much grace as they could.
It was Michiru's idea to ask Rei if she could help. "I don't want her doing a series that just touch on the surface," she explained. Rei thought that she had never known anybody less likely to stay on the surface than Hotaru but she also knew that the mother in Michru was winning out over the senshi, so she promised to help Hotaru and give her whatever she needed.
Hotaru turned up that Sunday, took Rei's translation of Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, and sat on the bench, devouring the Major Arcana. Phobos and Deimos perched on the edge of the roof and stared at her but Hotaru didn't even look at them. She only moved to turn the page or tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. After she had finished her chores for the afternoon, Rei sat beside her.
"Were you going to do a sequence or a spread?" she asked.
Hotaru looked at her, blinking as if she were coming out of a deep trance. Rei smiled. She knew the feeling. The Major Arcana was a journey, old and timeless, and it pulled you along as relentless as gravity. Hotaru tucked the lock of hair behind her ear again and closed the book, marking her place with a finger.
"I'm going to draw the people I know as tarot cards," she said. "I've already matched Michiru-mama, Haruka-papa and Setsuna-mama. I wondered if I could draw Usagi-san and the others as well."
"They'll be happy to help, but I warn you, you'll have quite a job of getting Minako-chan and Usagi-chan to sit still," Rei warned with a slight smirk.
"Oh, that's all right," Hotaru said, patting her satchel. "I've got a Polaroid so I can take a snapshot of them sitting for me and I'll do the main sketch from that. I mean, all I need is their features, really, the positions depend on the card and the significance."
Rei nodded. Of course Hotaru was prepared. Rei had known that Hotaru would have thought about her topic carefully and planned things out. She wasn't worried about Hotaru losing momentum or changing her mind.
"Only..." Hotaru was now riffling the book's pages, staring down at her lap. "I wondered if you could pose for me, too, Rei-san."
"Me?" Rei stared at her, startled. "You've chosen a card for me already?"
"Oh, you were easy," Hotaru said, looking up with a shy smile. "You're the High Priestess."
It was Rei's turn to blink and look startled. Hotaru didn't say anything more, she sat and waited for Rei to collect herself and respond. It was one of the many reasons that Rei enjoyed being with Hotaru: the ability to sit and wait. "The High Priestess," she repeated, a little embarrassed but also... proud? "Thank you, Hotaru-chan."
"I won't take a Polaroid of you," Hotaru said, interpreting this as acceptance. "I know that you can sit still. Just let me know when you have a free weekend and I'll come round, if that's okay?"
Rei nodded. "Of course," she said quietly, "you can borrow the book if you like. It's the only one I've ever bothered to buy."
"Thank you!" Hotaru carefully marked her place with a small metal bookmark and slipped it into her bag. "And thank you for letting me come and read it here. My parents are so worried about this project." She smiled, a patient smile that made her seem much older.
Rei nodded. "I know," she said, "but I'm not. You know you're welcome here any time, Hotaru-chan, if you need... space."
"Space." Hotaru nodded with a smiling glance. "Right."
Rei didn't see her for a couple of weeks. She herself was busy with the preparations for Golden Week, always a bumper time where money was concerned, as people flocked to the shrine to celebrate the spring and the various feast days. It was busy, busy, busy, and she normally enjoyed the rush of activity and the feeling of money flowing into the shrine and the knowledge that they would be able to do some repairs and buy some new varnish and paint for the wood. But this time, she felt harried and constantly had to bite her tongue or swallow some sharp remark. She found herself thinking that she was the one who could do with space.
As if Hotaru had heard the thought, she appeared under the torii gate that Sunday, her massive artist's satchel slung over one shoulder, paper clutched underneath her arm, a determined look in her grey eyes. Rei felt a weird sense of relief when she saw the slim figure and waved. Hotaru waved back, striding forward with purpose. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Rei had never seen Hotaru dressed so casually and for a moment, she wondered if someone else had taken over Hotaru's body.
"Michiru-mama was out this morning," Hotaru explained before she could ask, dropping the satchel to the ground and rubbing her shoulder. "Haruka-papa doesn't mind me dressing like this but Michiru-mama does."
"She wants you to stay her little girl," Rei pointed out.
"Then she should ask Setsuna-mama to reverse time," Hotaru said with a shrug. "Because I haven't been a little girl for a while now. Would you mind sitting underneath the gate?" She indicated. "For the pillars. I need to get the shape and the shadows."
"Of course..." Rei stood up, brushing herself down. She felt a little nervous but also intrigued. Although she was the daughter of a prominent politician, she had never sat for a professional photographer or had her portrait painted. She had no experience in this area. She followed Hotaru towards the gate and seated herself on the top step, arranging her robes. Hotaru moved down a couple of steps, then turned and looked at her, assessing. She nodded after a few seconds and crouched, taking out a small pad from her back pocked and a pencil.
"Do you have an ofuda that you could hold in your hands? It doesn't matter what the kanji says, I just need the shape."
Rei found a small slip of paper and held it out.
"Hold it out towards me... like it's an offering... that's it, perfect, now don't move." The pencil flew over the paper and Hotaru's eyes darted between the sketch and Rei, her upper lip pulled back slightly in concentration. Phobos and Deimos perched on the kasagi and peered downwards, fascinated by the process. The trees rustled slightly in a late afternoon breeze. Rei closed her eyes and let out a long breath. She hadn't realised until now how tense she'd been these past two weeks.
"Have you done the others?" she asked softly.
Hotaru nodded. "I saved you for last... because I knew you wouldn't be difficult," she added, looking up with a quick smile.
Rei thought that Hotaru might be the first person in the world to state that. She wiggled her toes and gazed off into the distance, noting the glittering steel and glass of the skyscrapers. Here, on the boundary between the sacred and the profane, they meant little, nothing to the High Priestess, the guardian of the gateway. Her mind drifted in the sunshine and the silence. She wondered if Hotaru had read the entire entry about the High Priestess... the negative implications of someone who could not transform their intuition into action, someone who was scared of people. She thought of Usagi and Minako, who were all about action.
"Did you paint Minako-chan and Usagi-chan?" she asked.
"Yes..." Hotaru stood up and smirked. "But I'm not telling you who they are. You'll see. They always put up our projects in time for the school summer festival, I'll invite all of you and then you can see your portraits. We can go inside now, I've done the preliminaries, I need to work on your expression and the details."
Rei followed, thinking how sure of herself Hotaru was. In her element. Of course, she had always been a watcher of sorts. It was just that now, she could turn her talent to her advantage. Seated again inside, gazing out into the shrine garden, Rei wondered what tarot card she would assign to Hotaru if she chose. Death was the obvious choice, but Rei hated the obvious choice. Saturn was Death. Hotaru was... what?
"You can move now, Rei-san." Hotaru was packing her satchel. "Thank you so much for posing, you were great."
"You're finished?" Rei glanced at the clock. Had it really been that long? She had to start preparing dinner. Usagi was coming over after her university drawing class and Rei always had to prepare double, even if Usagi didn't pig out quite so much as she used to.
"For now." Hotaru bowed, thanking her again. "I'll be in touch."
Rei saw her to the gate and watched Hotaru run down the steps. She couldn't help thinking that she'd like Hotaru to stay a little girl as well... though for different reasons. Every day, Hotaru grew a little older. Every day, Crystal Tokyo came a step nearer. And Rei was afraid. She could see the future, but not clearly enough. That evening, she pulled the card of the High Priestess out of her deck and gazed at the woman's serene expression.
Once upon a time, she had been sure of herself, of what her future held. She'd been angry when that vision was disrupted, fought against it, snapped and bit. Shaken out of her composure, dragged from her sanctuary. But you couldn't remain in seclusion forever.
Rei put the card down, closing her eyes. She loved the shrine and she never wanted to leave... but she couldn't be scared of what was ahead. Usagi had shown her that. And Minako... well, Minako never liked to think of the future as 'concrete'.
Rei smiled and put the card down. She hadn't stopped being the High Priestess... she was just more than the High Priestess now. As she should be.
"And now I'm about to become the high priestess of the kitchen," she muttered, walking into the kitchen and tying the apron strings. She hoped Usagi was in the mood for udon.